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A CurtainUp Review

Bernard and Carey are two typical Chelsea gay men. Bernard (Charles Loffredo) is a jock whose rippling biceps are testimony to his commitment to a regular regime of weight lifting. Carey (Bill Dobbins) is a more cerebral type, a writer whose foray into Eastern meditation has empowered him to enjoy extended orgasms -- and with women as well as men. Bernard hates talking about his feelings, Carey can talk about little else. Clearly it's time for some space in their togetherness. And just as clearly, both men quickly find new lovers.

Carey embarks on a heterosexual relationship with Rosemary (Patricia Randell), the speaker at a symposium for writers and a model for every smart woman making consistently foolish choices. relationships. Bernard get's involved with Dennis (Joseph Jude Zito) who likes men but only if they're decked out as flirtatious, acquiescent females sporting high heels, bouffant hairdos and makeup.

As you can see we've got all the makings of a modern day bedroom farce. But Richard Willet, a playwright of great inventiveness, has a lot more on his mind. His aim is nothing less than to take the equivalent of a cross-country trip to investigate the many ways people deal with their sexual needs. Thus he uses the gender confusion that comes between Bernard and Carey to jumpstart assorted other stories interlacing them with elements from a triptych of seemingly unconnected elements: an Ivy League research program conducted from the 1940's to the 1960s, a 1959 "women's movie" and the theory of Taoist or Tantric Sex.

The first part of this triptych is the most interesting and the one with the most promise of expanding the play's appeal to a broader audience. The second adds an amusing note of high camp. The Tantric sex business points to the play's fatal flaw of trying to cover too much and taking a few too many detours.

The controversial research program that Mr. Willett so cleverly brings to life with voice overs and flashback scenes is known as The Posture Photo Program. It involved photographing male and female students at Ivy League universities. Presumably its purpose was to improve posture. In fact it was used by the two professors in charge (W.H. Sheldon and E.A. Hooton) to link posture, which they believed was hereditary, with personality. While many of the photos were destroyed, rare editions of some of the Atlas of Man albums are around so that it's not a mad leap for a writer to gain access to archived albums. Ron Rosenbaum did just that for a recent New York Times Magazine piece. And in Triptych, Carey decides to write an article about the albums based on interviewes with his grandfather Chester (played by Jerome Richards as an old man, and Derek Richardson as a college student) who along with his wife Helen (Cindy Chesler) and her sister Debbie (Amy Staats) were part of the program.

The movie that represents the humorous element of the triptych is one of those women's sagas everyone loves to put down, The Best Of Everything, (adapted from Rona Jaffee's best-seller). It revolves around several young women struggling to survive in the pink collar jungle of a woman's magazine where the male editors are lecherous and the female editor in charge is treacherous (played by Joan Crawford, of course). It is one of these girls who serves as the role model for Bernard's sex kitten wife during his affair with Dennis..

Director Eliza Beckwith ably moves the eleven actors through the varied strands of Triptych. Unfortunately, the play's plot excesses weaken its strengths. This is especially true of the flashbacks to Carey's parents.

The cast works well together. Patricia Randell is amusing and affecting though one wishes her Rosemary did not have to revert back to stereotypical behavior. Jerome Richards is at once sad and funny as a man who remains wise and witty when he's not subject to increasing fits of Tourette-like twitches and gibberish. Charles Laffredo's outrageously kitschy gender reversal is near perfection.

Triptych is not for every taste and at two and a half hours about a fifth too long. Still, just from the standpoint of value received for dollar expended -- it is an unusual experience, presented by a capable, generously sized cast and at a modest price of admission.

By Richard Wilett.
Directed by Eliza Beckwith
With Charles Loffredo, Bill Dobbins, Cindy Chesler, Amy Staats, Joseph Jude Zito, Patricia Randell, Michael Aubele, Lynn Laurence, Tom Luczak, Jerome Richards, Derek Richardson
Set design: Kenichi Toki
Costume design:Kim B. Walker
Lighting design: Beth Turomsha
Sound design: Ian P. Murphy
New Directions Theatre at HomeGrown Theatre, 2628 Broadway (96th St) 212/229-7500.
2/05/99-3/01/99; opened 2/08/99 Performances: M, F & Sa at 8, Su at 3, for $12
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/14/99 matinee performance

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